Classical dance is an art, but it is also increasingly a science.
Enter the laboratory of Dr Luke Hopper, and you will find state-of-the-art motion capture technology ready to analyse a dancer’s every movement.
Dr Hopper, from the ECU Dance Research Centre at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), is one of the world’s leading authorities on how dance floors are constructed, and how this impacts dancer performance and health.
Unlike regular flooring, or that used for sport, dance floors are “sprung” in a way to provide adequate shock absorption.
This is necessary when a professional dancer might perform 150 jumps and landings in their daily classical ballet class alone.
Every dance floor is different, and the flooring used while on tour can vary widely between theatres. If a performance surface lacks the right absorption properties, dancers can sustain serious injuries as a result.
An ideal dance floor needs to strike the right balance between firmness and responsiveness, and also provide good traction, to avoid slips and falls.
Dr Hopper has partnered with Harlequin, the world’s leading dance floor manufacturer, to better understand the connection between dance floor composition, the preferences of the dancers themselves, and the data on performer injuries.
A decade in the making, the resulting research has been published in diverse journals spanning mechanical engineering, human movement science, and dance studies.
Dr Hopper has also written a chapter for a leading textbook, Dancer Wellness, on what he has learned.
As a direct result of his findings, some of the world’s top companies have changed how they and their dancers work. At the Birmingham Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom, Dr Hopper completed extensive testing of the floors used at their performance headquarters, and those while on tour.
The company subsequently constructed a new sprung floor over the top of their existing stage, and also minimised the usage of sub-optimal flooring while on tour.
When the Queensland Ballet renovated their rehearsal studios in 2014, they looked to Dr Hopper’s work to inform the design.
Key to Dr Hopper’s approach has been to ask dancers for their opinions of how their bodies react to different kinds of flooring.
Correlating this qualitative feedback with the quantifiable data of how dancer injuries have occurred while on tour make it a world-first study.
For Dr Hopper and Harlequin, the dance between performance and research continues.
For further information contact Dr Hopper.
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